BNM land deal: Not everyone has the option to say no

I refer to the various discussions surrounding what Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) should and should not have done in the purchase of a plot of land.

I think it is appropriate to remind ourselves that all government departments, agencies and government-owned entities have to follow the lawful instructions of the government of the day. Let’s not be sanctimonious now, after the event, and pretend that we would have done any different.

It is pointless and extremely unfair to pass judgment now, after a change in government, and say that the previous decision was wrong. Would we have acted any differently at the time?

The important consideration is whether the order or instruction was legal and lawful.

There was nothing wrong with BNM buying land from the government, either voluntarily or under duress, as it was perfectly legal. The issue of overpayment should not arise as different valuers will give different valuations. In any case, these are only being highlighted now as there was no mention about the valuation back then. This was not a hidden transaction – BNM released a press release after the sale for public information. If BNM had refused to play ball, the government would have replaced the governor with someone else who would have carried out the transaction.

If I were the government or instructing party, I would not even bother selling the land to BNM. I would just ask BNM to pay special dividends on the surplus that it had accumulated. What then?

Any government can instruct its agencies or owned companies to pay extra dividends or special dividends for any government expenditure. It is a pity that these payments are being related to 1MDB interest payments as those were of no concern to the government agencies or companies. They had no standing to reject or deny any requests.

It’s no different in private companies. Holding companies can instruct subsidiaries to pay more dividends to the holding companies. It is not the business of the subsidiaries to question what the holding company will be using the proceeds for.

So why pick on one or two entities just because they were unlucky enough to be picked on by a wasteful government?

Take the current administration, for example. They have set up the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP). What is the legal basis for this? Did the Yang di-Pertuan Agong consent to this?

Many heads of agencies and companies have been meeting with the council and briefing its members on confidential matters. Will the next government find fault with those who appeared and gave briefings?

Surely, the reply is that one has to adhere to the instructions of the current administration – there are no options. Heads of government companies can ask for the legal mandate or clearance before briefing the CEP.

Obviously, some in the previous administration went overboard, producing song tracks or claiming they had met the secretive and reclusive Arab donor, or hiding or ignoring evidence or not adhering to rules and regulations when demanding extra tax payments from those who did not have to pay any additional tax – but those can be dealt with accordingly. Even then, one must ask if they were just carrying out orders or if they were party to the wasteful and extravagant government which partied for years and years with our hard-earned tax payments.

For the most part, actions or transactions carried out by heads of government agencies or companies are lawful. Let’s not pick on them now just because a new government is in place and it is convenient or politically correct to bash them for their past actions.

Would we have acted any differently back then? We have the saying, “tepuk dada tanya selera”, which is very appropriate here.

Radha Krishnan is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Bank Negara gives details on land deal to MACC

Sources: Funds from Bank Negara land deal used to pay 1MDB debts